You know it's November when the more interesting movies make their debuts. The pre-Christmas season is the time for companies to release their Award Pictures, the ones they expect will gain sufficient acclaim to jump to the top of the list for Oscar consideration. (The Academy is notorious for having only a two-month memory.) So this weekend we have three movies coming out which have been much-lauded pre-release: Bobby, For Your Consideration (appropriately enough), and Casino Royale. Bobby has a dream cast--- Martin Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy, to name just a few--- and deals with the death-knell of a well-mythicised golden age of political integrity. For Your Consideration is another Christopher Guest improvisational-invention, featuring his stable of regulars that includes Catherine O'Hara, Fred Willard and Eugene Levy. Both films are Altmanesque in their own ways and both, I suspect, will garner cult followings at least, the former for its Grand Hotel-like star-power, the latter for its generic quirkiness; and for both, the early reviews are generally good. So there's some Stuff to screen, even if more for the discerning viewers than the groundlings that might opt to see The Grudge 2 once more instead.
From a larger historical sense, though, the most interesting picture is Casino Royale. By all accounts, the new Bond entry attempts a genuinely new take on the form, and so most of the reviews will spend much-too-much time prattling on about Daniel Craig's performance. (Dana Stevens' vapid and digressive piece for Slate leaps, nay vaults, to mind.) The premise of presenting Bond in harsher and less cartoonish manner is promising, and so for the first time, I'm looking forward to seeing a Bond movie, whenever that finally happens. Dorks and doofi like Yours Truly, however, will be watching the critics as much as they'll be watching the movie to see how well they respond to the key change. Surprisingly, Anthony Lane, while readable as ever, somehow doesn't seize the opportunity as one expects he would. I think he's (again, surprisingly) almost bettered by Manohla Dargis for NYT, whose review is surely less studied but sharper in its lancing sensibilities. Lane seldom gets out-bitched, so this is a rare feat. As much as I like Lane's description of Eva Green's Vesper Lynd "as a Bond woman-- a Bond Lady of Shalott," there's a flimsy stretchiness to it; Dargis' compliment that her "talent is actually larger than her breasts" is wryer, even if it's sophomoric in nature. Sometimes flippancy trumps esotericism. (That I think Eva Green drool-worthy has absolutely nothing to do with my estimation. Absolutely. Nothing. ) Interesting item to note in the critical regard: none of the reviews I've read have had effective endings. One wonders if there's a significance to this. They all seem to taper off, like the American President pronouncing a polysyllabic word.
Considering all this, I'm left with a poser. The Craig Casino Royale, we're told, is a kind of prequel, an offering meant to put into context the James Bond we have known all-too-well over the decades. No problem with that, except for this: if this Bond, the Daniel Craig Bond, is supposed to be the pregenitor of the following (or preceding?) Bonds, why cast Judi Dench as M? She is the M of the late Bond, the super-cartoonish Bond. Are we intended then to imagine that she and Bernard Lee, the original M of the movies, are the same person? Or is Dame Judi's character one who starts her career with Bond, goes away for a while, and then demotedly returns to take over her old position? Had they signed anyone else to play "M," this would not have been an issue; we'd simply have assumed a precursor in that position. But this one casting choice strikes me as creating a credibility problem, even if it's probably niggling at something we're just not invited to question. Maybe one should judge matters according to the Bond at hand--- no more, no less.
And, yes--- acknowledging what I wrote above-- I probably should have written a stronger ending, but, damn it, I'm not going to bother. I'm not getting paid for this, so what do I care? Unless, of course, The New Yorker finally realizes what a deadly bore David Denby has become and decides to look north-by-northwest for a replacement.
ODD FILM-RELATED ADDENDUM: The NYT obit on Jack Palance notes that Palance understudied for Anthony Quinn in the 1948 stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire (and later took over for Brando in same). That's a performance I imagine would have been as iconic as it might have seemed odd. Think of Palance's persistently subsumed ferocity--- and conjecture it finding material fitting for its release--- and what a counterpoint it might have provided for Brando's version. Palance's Stanley, I suspect, would have been more barrel-chested, more throaty and jagged, and almost definitely more menacing. But Palance was just a working actor, while Brando was a star right from the start. It's tempting, though, to suggest that the inevitable contrast for that legendary Stelllaaaa would be a simple star-lover. (And there's a joke only RK, and/or some of his more attentive students, will get.) Palance, however, might have been apter. He'd have invariably become dark matter.